The price of government is going up.
Unless something presumably unexpected happens at a public hearing July 31, Douglas County will approve a budget for the coming year that will raise property taxes by around 4.8 percent. It’ll be too bad if that happens.
In a struggling local economy, with downsizing and layoffs still occurring, with Kansas University taking it in the shorts from the state, with Haskell Indian Nations University getting hit by the sequester, and with exorbitant residential and small-business utility increases on the table, the county got a pleasant surprise when the assessed valuation of property on which it could levy taxes remained stable. It would have been possible to maintain the status quo of the property tax burden on county residents, but instead the elected commissioners decided to implement a tax hike so they could address what they saw as important needs.
Of course arguments can be made in favor of the programs and decisions that swelled the tax burden.
Certainly some employees deserve raises, including a budgeted 1 percent cost-of-living adjustment: $821,000. Taxpayers who recently lost jobs or took pay cuts no doubt concur.
Boosting the local community corrections program: $109,513. Not to detract from the value of surveillance officers, but how are priorities determined and balanced?
Picking up the slack from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment for lab tests for sexually transmitted diseases: $20,470. Thanks, governor and Legislature. Why’s that now a county responsibility?
Creating a contingency fund to continue positions financed by grant money if other state support evaporates: $130,000. Well, well. Shouldn’t all of us taxpayers have such contingency money readily at hand in case of tax increases?
Joe and Jane Taxpayer seem, in fact, to be the forgotten parties in budget considerations. But, maybe all the largesse from the reduction in the state sales tax — oh, yeah, that didn’t really happen. Well, maybe that decrease in the state income tax — you say it doesn’t affect everyone the same?
The county, of course, has to evaluate programs and determine spending priorities, but the top priority should be not placing an additional burden on county taxpayers.